Femtech seeks to provide alternatives to the pill

Publication Date27 Apr 2021
AuthorGali Weinreb
This is a statistic that has remained stable for the past 15 years and it demonstrates a problem: the pill that encompasses more than 40% of the contraceptives market isn't doing the job for everyone, and there are those who are forced not to use it and are not finding an alternative. At the same time men, except for using condoms that also have other health advantages in protected sex, are still essentially not part of the game.

The significance is that despite the availability of the pill and even that if used properly it has a 98%-99% efficacy against pregnancy many women choose to forgo it, among other things, because of the side effects that it causes, even at the cost of the risk of an unintended pregnancy.

And so women that want to plan their birthrate nevertheless consciously choose to forgo the pill: "Most of my life I used the pill," says Yael (45) from Givat Shmuel. "I began at a very young age, even before I had sexual relations, on the recommendation of doctors. I suffer from very difficult periods - a lot of bleeding, pains, depression - and they thought that this was the solution, and that the pill would sort out my body."

"For years I took them. Although the pain and the bleeding lessened, and there was something very convenient in knowing when I would have my period but beyond that the pills did not do impressive work with my body: I suffered from moodiness, my desire for sex was reduced and they caused me unpleasant side effects. Generally they made me feel that everything was monotonous and put me in very dull mood. I tried many types of pills. Every time my body did not feel good, I switched to a different type that the doctors decided to give me."

"At the age of 36, I decided to come off the pill. My body underwent an astonishing change. The exhilaration of my body was restored to me, it genuinely thanked me. I lost my excess weight, my sexual desire rose and I felt so much better."

Yael is not alone. For many women the pill to prevent pregnancy is far from a sufficient solution: they suffer side effects and a reduction in the quality of life. "For years I took the pill," recounts Hagit (37) from Tel Aviv. "I permanently had migraines during my period and as the years went by it got worse. At a certain stage it became intolerable. I already had small children and I felt that it was paralyzing me. For several days of the month I needed painkillers as frequently as possible and that did not always help. I felt so fragile that every little thing would set me off. I was scared do be outside in the heat or to drink alcohol on these days and I felt that any extra burden on my body would make me unable to function. In virtual despair, I arrived for treatment from an alternative medicine doctor and the first thing she recommended was to stop taking the pill - something that I had ever even thought of. A month later the headaches had stopped. Although I had been treated by acupuncture the change was so swift that it was clear to me that the pills were playing a major part in the matter. Since then I have hardly suffered from headaches during my period, and when I do get them they can go away by themselves."

Noga (42) from Yavne was really brought down by the pill. "I took the pill for the first time at the age of 17 when I had a boyfriend. I went to the gynecologist and he wrote me a prescription for the famous 'Diane.' After a short while, I flew with all the family on a trip and I completely freaked out there. Every time that it got dark I began to cry. I had a really queasy stomach and no appetite and I felt absolutely crazy, it really made me depressed and my parents didn't know what to do with me. I was crying all the time and I only wanted to go home. When we returned home, my mother believed that it as the pill that was throwing me out of balance. When I stopped taking it everything went away. Since then we have only used condoms."

Indeed, many women who take pills or other hormonal treatments report a decline in sexual desire, dryness in their vagina, moodiness and nausea (all the same because use is over the years, it is difficult to say if the side effects are definitely because of the pill).

On top of all this, in rare instances the pill can lead to much more severe side effects. The most prevalent of these are blood clots, which in the most serious cases can lead to irreversible disability and even death. Blood clots are caused by different reasons - flying, continued sitting without movement, pregnancy and also pills. Most of the risk in taking the pill is that it contains estrogen as well as progestin. The likelihood that women taking them will suffer from blood clots is between twice to six times higher than for women who take no hormonal treatments at all (this is still a very low risk compared with other factors causing clots). It is particularly more likely for women who smoke, older women who are overweight or with known clotting problems.

"Of course there are women for whom hormones are beneficial to, but you must understand the risk and that doesn't happen in the few minutes conversation that the gynecologist has with a young girl who is panicking because she fears that soon after leaving the clinic, she will be back with an unwanted pregnancy," says Dr. Anula Jayasuriya, Chairwoman of the Israeli innovative femtech company OCON Healthcare, which developed the IUB Intra Uterine Ball (see box). "It is an art to choose together with the patient the right contraceptive means for her. Sometimes when you give the wrong product to a woman, the risk of clotting can grow fifty times, and these are healthy women."

It is important to point out that for many women the pill for preventing pregnancy is an excellent solution. They do not suffer side effects or pain and this solution can serve them over the years. However, for those for whom this solution is not appropriate - there is virtually no other suitable solution, certainly not regarding the level of protection and effectiveness.

The market has been frozen for half a century

How is it possible then that a market worth billions of dollars annually has not renewed...

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